You also get useful functions like Auto-Exposure Shift and White Balance Shift, plus the excellent spot focus and metering, where you simply touch the point on screen you would like to be in focus and properly exposed. The Smooth Slow Record system, first seen in the HDR-HC3E, remains. This buffers up to three seconds at four times the usual frame rate for smooth playback at the normal speed, although the video quality is reduced. Sony has also provided control over saturation via Camera Color, an X. V. Color setting, and Sharpness, although all of these require a trip to the full menu system.
However, the HDR-HC9E is no enthusiast camcorder. About the only discrete buttons available operate the Nightshot modes. Although there is an accessory shoe, this is Sony's proprietary Intelligent version, rather than standard-sized. So you will only be able to attach Sony's own peripherals. But at least minijacks are available for headphones and an external microphone. Annoyingly, the point-and-shoot orientation of the HDR-HC9 also means it has no lens ring. However, it does have a little wheel next to the lens which does the same job fairly well. Apart from that, a solitary button on the right hand side enables the tiny flash, which lurks inside a pop-up flap to the right of the lens.
Traditionally, CMOS technology has been associated with a slight reduction in image quality compared to CCDs. However, Sony has done a good job of correcting for this electronically with its ClearVid technology. The new Exmor CMOSes are supposedly even better, but the HDR-HC9E doesn't come with one of those. We'll have to wait for the HDR-SR12E to put Exmor to the test.
The HDR-HC9E is still a great performer, however. In bright sunlight, colours exhibit the saturation we have come to expect from Sony. The default picture is a little too sharp, but you can drop this back a little using the manual controls. Colour balance is also excellent, and thanks to the current superiority of HDV over AVCHD compression, the overall picture beats any AVCHD camcorder we have yet tested, including Panasonic's HDC-SD9. But Canon's Canon HV20 still offers marginally more naturalistic colour. You can reduce the HDR-HC9E's saturation using the Camera Color setting, but the HV20 has the edge.